Strengthening our Social Fabric

Some would say that the fabric of American society is fraying due to decreased civic engagement and increased political polarization.  Last week I witnessed the complete opposite.

It was the night before Flag Day and I saw the strengthening of social bonds in a local restaurant where thirteen veterans and their spouses came together to share fun, stories and some delicious Irish stew.

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This positive and festive social gathering brought together US veterans from three generations to share in the spirit of camaraderie and strengthening community involvement.

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Members from the Charles Schwab Military Veterans Network and Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 met at the Irish Hare Pub and Restaurant in Phoenix for some fun, food and story telling.

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Here our common values rallied about an important piece of cloth that symbolizes the unity and strength of our country- the flag that we have all pledged allegiance to.  The red, white and blue fabric on our table reminded us that we are Americans first.

We came together and toasted to our freedom which none of us will ever take for granted.

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It warmed my heart and gave me hope that people from different generations, professions, political leanings and walks of life can come together in a spirit of positive bonds of affection and shared experiences.

 

The Irish Hare is a great venue for social events, dinner and music and we all appreciated the support from the Proprietor Heidi Hamor who thanked us for our service and contributed to the raffle prizes with a snazzy, green shirt.  Other fun raffle prizes from the American Legion Post 64 included a US Flag and fun, patriotic cowboy hats.

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It was a simple yet spirited event that renewed my faith in the strength of local community bonds that are the underlying support for the fabric of our society.  I was happily reminded that I live in the United States of America where our flag is appreciated and rallied around in times of peace and war and serves as a common symbol of our shared principles and values.

 

March to May Remembrance

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Photo by Steve Smull

To preserve the memories and honor the sacrifices of those who paid the ultimate price while serving their country, Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 is dedicated to providing and supporting remembrance services and ceremonies.

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American Legion Post 64 members. Photo by Steve Smull

Beginning in March and running through Memorial Day, Post 64 will have had three events dedicated to honoring fallen and past Veterans.

On March 15, 2019, the members of the post celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the American Legion.  This special meeting was dedicated to the 1,194 crew members of the USS Indianapolis CA-35 which was torpedoed on July 30, 1945.

At the March meeting, post member John Boyer gave an educational and moving presentation about the disaster, the victims, and the 316 survivors. John is a survivor family member as his cousin, Lloyd Peter Barto, was one of the crew who was rescued after four days in the shark-infested waters of the Philippine Sea.

For more information on the USS Indianapolis Click here.

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On May 15th, Post 64 honored and remembered 45 members who have passed in a special prayer service led by Post Chaplain Rebecca Schmidt.

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John Boyer and Rebecca Schmidt. Photo by Steve Smull

 

The theme of Never Forget will culminate on Memorial Day, May 27, when Post 64 will join over 20 Color and Honor Guards from across Arizona to pass in review at the Parade of Colors. The Ahwatukee post join many others to place over 100 wreaths in a solemn and inspirational Memorial Day Service at The National Cemetery of Arizona in Cave Creek, AZ on 23029 North Cave Creek Roadbeginning at 8:00 am.

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Post 64 Color Guard lined up for the Memorial Day ceremony

The Memorial Day Ceremonies are a very important and respected tradition for veterans and their families across the country and include the presentation of the flag, slow salutes and the playing of taps.  Other services may include prayers, the reading of names, ringing of bells and the lighting of candles.

Click here for more the Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 website.

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Capturing the Moment

Capturing the Moment

Lights, Camera and the Community in Action

As part of the Toastmasters in the Community series in my Ahwatukee club blog, I published this article last week.

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Sharing the emotion and meaning of a moment in unique and creative ways, Steve Smull has been behind the scenes with his camera and flash at countless Toastmasters, veteran and community events chronicling important occasions, messages and achievements.

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At a Veterans Day parade in Denver, CO

He considers himself an Image Documentarian who enjoys recording milestones and experiences with an eye to aesthetics where angle, context, composition and lighting are all continually considered and calculated.

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Speaking at a Career Fair for Veterans in  Phoenix, AZ

 

 

Steve learned the art of the craft from his father who was a professional photographer specializing in black and white prints.  Filming in Super 8 was also a skill he learned in his youth and drives his passion for videography today.

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Presenting a wreath at a Memorial Day service in Denver, CO

Steve gets the shot that helps share and promote the perspective and meaning of the scene.  By saving memories and images he helps memorialize and remember our past and the sacrifices many have made.  By reporting and educating, he honors our history and traditions one frozen moment at a time.

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The winners of a Poppy Queen contest

 

By documenting the impact, action and faces in the community, Steve aids his fellow volunteers in promoting and increasing awareness on their important causes.

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The Ahwatukee American Legion Color Guard in Arizona

 

Whether it’s a speech contest, a fundraiser gala, a  bike race or a solemn memorial service, Steve has a knack for artfully capturing the action, passion and beauty of the scene.

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At the Cyclocross Nationals Race in Boulder, CO

 

The Spirit of Giving

The spirit of giving is alive and well in Phoenix, Arizona and it reminds of the many special people who shaped my life.

My mother, Virginia, was a jolly and generous woman whose smile could brighten any room. As an active member of the Ladies Auxiliary in VFW Post 4589 in our hometown and she brought joy to many sick veterans during weekend visits to the local VA hospitals.  She brought the patients treats, books and most importantly, she brought them her loving spirit and warming laugh.

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My Mom, Virginia Nason

Although my Mom is no longer on this earth, it comforts me to know that her warm spirit of giving is still alive through me, my siblings and other auxiliary and veteran group members.

This past year, I joined American Legion Post 64 in Ahwatukee, AZ for a host of reasons:

One- It is important to me to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Two- My parents instilled in me a strong sense of obligation to help others in the community.

The foundation of the American Legion’s values is based on four pillars and this holiday season, I was delighted to see two of them demonstrated so clearly by the generous actions of fellow members of Post 64.

The two pillars of Veteran Affairs & Rehabilitation and Children & Youth were shown and strengthened by the kind deeds of Deb & Roger Munchbach and Kris & Jim Cetone.  Like my parents did years ago, they visited the Phoenix VAMC and livened up the dreary, white hallways with festive Christmas trees and boxes of goodies that were free to anyone who wanted them.

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Deb Munchbach with Jim and Kris Cetone

Another heartwarming holiday project that was spearheaded by the Munchbachs and supported by members of Post 64 involved supporting the Christmas Sponsorship Program at Save The Family in Mesa, AZ.  In this program, participating family members are asked to submit “wish lists” that are shared with the sponsors.

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The gifts for our Christmas family

Post 64 sponsored a local veteran family and used the money donated from the distribution of poppies (hand crafted by Roger) along with cash gifts from post members to purchase a sleigh-full of presents (toys and household items).

It is this spirit of giving and caring for others that makes we most proud to be a member of American Legion Post 64.

 

During this Christmas season I feel merrier knowing that my Mom is looking down at us with her big smile and saying:

“Ho, Ho, Ho! 

Good job on keeping them smiling and laughing!”

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Jim, Kris and Roger brightened the Phoenix VAMC

 

 

 

 

Appreciation and Thanks

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I am thankful for organizations that are motivated, dedicated and committed to helping those less fortunate in the local community.  One such group is American Legion Post 64 in Ahwatukee, Arizona which continues to be recognized for its good work in the Phoenix area.

Post 64 was recently awarded three plaques to recognize its efforts and good works including: Outstanding Post History, Outstanding Color Guard and the 2018  Commanders Award for Community Service.

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Post 64 Color Guard in action.  Photo by Steve Smull

It’s no wonder that this fine Post has received the Membership award for the last 3 years.

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I so appreciate the positive acknowledgment of the generous and patriotic service of the members of Ahwatukee Post 64 and I am proud to call myself an active member.

Click here for the Post 64 Website

 

 

Remembering Armistice Day and Our Veterans

The red poppies are blowing today as the world marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice (11/11/18).

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As I watch French, German, American and other world leaders come together in Paris to pay their respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their countries, I am thankful that veterans are being remembered and appreciated for their service.

An American Legion magazine is spread open on the kitchen table and a poignant photo of a WWII veteran is calling to me.  He is all bundled up in gloves and a blanket and is holding a small US flag in one hand and a hand written sign in another.  The sign reads, “Thanks for Remembering”.

In the end, that’s all most veterans really want- to be appreciated and remembered.

So on this important day, Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance/Armistice Day in Canada, Australia and many nations in Western Europe, it is my hope that as citizens of the world we can set aside our political differences and reflect on the positive impacts that countless servicemen and women have made all over the world.

There are over 20 million living veterans in the United States, representing almost 10% of the population.  If you don’t know someone who has served in the military, I encourage you to find out more by supporting your local VFW or American Legion posts.

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Marching in a Veterans Day Parade in Denver. Photo by Steve Smull

This Veterans Day is a very special Remembrance Day as we celebrate the centennial of the end of the First World War.

I proudly wear my red poppy to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those died on the battlefield.  I humbly pick up and carry the torch for those who came before me, knowing that they would say, “Thanks for Remembering!”

Happy Veterans Day America

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Respect and Inclusion for Veterans in Corporate America

Respect and Inclusion for Veterans in Corporate America

Trust, Respect and Inclusion. While these values may seem to be waning in American society today, they are valued more than ever by employees who yearn to be part of collaborative teams that make a difference and positive impact in their organizations and communities.

In a time of increasing disunity and fractured social groups, it is heartening to know there are companies and employee networks that promote inclusion and diversity with the benefit of development and engagement in our communities.  Like many people today, I crave a sense of belonging to something greater than myself that shares a common vision and objective.    With Charles Schwab and its many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), I am one connected and happily engaged team member.

As a US Army veteran, I am proud to say that Schwab walks the talk when it comes to fostering and supporting Diversity and Inclusion networks.  Our teams meet frequently and have strong executive support to provide a wide array of programs, events and services.

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What many veterans miss most from their time in the military is the sense of camaraderie, cohesion and support from their units and teammates. These bonds are strong and are established all over the country in Schwab’s Military Veterans Network (MVN) groups (over 550 members).

This sense of team and connectedness is important to me since, as an IT professional, I have relocated many times and I always felt welcomed, appreciated and assisted by the local MVN chapters.  These groups come together with shared experiences and unite under common goalsand priorities.  The teams work as a cohesive unit to actively engage with the community and non-profit organizations to help fellow veterans and their families.

The trust, respect and inclusion the MVN fosters continues to grow and we are strengthened by the feeling that “we are all in this together” or as my Navy friends tell me, “we are all in the same boat”.

Being of service to others and giving back is another key driver for many members of the MVN and our volunteer efforts are supported by all levels of management.  Whether it be serving Thanksgiving dinner to homeless veterans at the Phoenix U.S. Vets facility,  assisting at the annual Arizona Stand Down or painting rooms to shelter those in need, our motivated ERG teams are ready to meet the call.

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Charles Schwab has given me the opportunity and the honor to work with many veteran focused non-profit groups including Project Sanctuary, American Legion, VFW and Heal The Hero.

Through solid action and commitment, employers that walk the talk on supporting veterans can gain something back — the loyalty and positive engagement of those former service members. Trust, Respect and Inclusion are truly wonderful gifts that keep on giving.

This quote from Air Force veteran Terrance Purcell sums up what I think is most important impact of ERGs, “All of these things really touch my heart and make me proud to be a Schwab Military Veteran Network member.”